Melissa R. Ingala
Research Associate, Former Graduate Student Richard Gilder Graduate School
All animals, including humans, are colonized by many thousands of bacteria. Many of these bacteria are beneficial and contribute to nutrition, immune system function, and development in their hosts. These bacteria and their associated genes are called "the microbiome".I study the patterns and processes underlying the gut microbiomes of bats. Bats are the second-most diverse clade of mammals on earth, and have diversified to feed on a variety of interesting foods such as insects, nectar, fruit, and even blood. I try to understand adaptations to these diets through the lens of the gut microbiome, examining how bacteria have facilitated these lifestyles and whether they have co-evolved with their hosts.
- Ph.D. Comparative Biology, Richard Gilder Graduate School at the American Museum of Natural History (NY). Dissertation: "Molecular Ecology of Bats and their Gut Microbial Symbionts: Structure, Function, and Dietary Interactions", Expected 2020
- M.S. Ecology & Systematics, Fordham University, Bronx (NY) 2016
- B.S. Environmental Science, Fordham University, Bronx (NY) 2015
Melissa’s research interests broadly center around the role of gut microbes – “the microbiome” – in shaping the evolution and ecology of mammals. She is co-advised by curators Dr. Nancy Simmons and Dr. Susan Perkins.
For her dissertation, Melissa is examining how symbiotic gut microbes have facilitated the ecological radiation of New World bats, particularly with respect to their diets and the number and diversity of parasites they harbor. Diet has a strong influence over the diversity and composition of the microbiome; as such, both short term dietary shifts and diet changes occurring over evolutionary time can select for different microbes that may help the host to maximize nutrition. One of her projects involving vampire bats examines how dietary shifts from native wildlife to livestock in Belize impacts the diversity of microbes in the gut, and whether that has any influence over the vampire’s innate immunity. Over evolutionary time, we might expect that as mammals specialize on certain food resources, their gut microbes also become functionally specialized to provide the most nutrition from these resources. To that end, Melissa is testing the relationship between dietary specialization and microbiome specialization in Phyllostomid bats, which contain insectivorous generalists, omnivores, and highly specialized frugivores. Finally, because the microbiome is known to impact host immunity, she is examining the interplay between the bat gut microbiome and helminth parasites. The goal of her research is to increase our understanding of host-microbe interactions through ecological and evolutionary time.
As a BS/MS student at Fordham University, Melissa studied the cutaneous lipid-based defenses of bats against the novel pathogen P. destructans, the etiological agent of White Nose Syndrome. She is passionate about educational outreach and the need for bat conservation through habitat preservation.
- Ingala, M. R., Becker, D. J., Bak Holm, J., Kristiansen, K., & Simmons, N. B. (2019). Habitat fragmentation is associated with dietary shifts and microbiota variability in common vampire bats. Ecology and evolution, 9(11), 6508-6523.
- Melissa R. Ingala, Nancy Simmons, and Susan Perkins (2018). Bats are an Untapped System for Understanding Microbiome Evolution in Mammals. mSphere. 3(5). https://doi.org/10.1128/mSphere.00397-18
- Craig L. Frank, Katherine G. Sitler-Elbel, Anna J. Hudson, and Melissa R. Ingala (2018). The anti-fungal properties of epidermal fatty acid esters: insights from White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) in bats. Molecules. 23(8). doi:10.3390/molecules23081986
- Melissa R. Ingala, Nancy Simmons, Claudia Wultsch, Konstantinos Krampis, Kelly A. Speer, and Susan L. Perkins (2018). Comparing Microbiome Sampling Methods in a Wild Mammal: Fecal and Intestinal Samples Record Different Signals of Host Ecology, Evolution. Frontiers in Microbiology. doi: https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2018.00803
- Ingala M.R., Ravenelle R.E., Monro J.J., Frank C.L. (2017). The Effects of Epidermal Fatty Acid Profiles, 1-oleoglycerol, and Triacylglycerols on the Susceptibility of Hibernating Bats to Pseudogymnoascus destructans. PLoS ONE12(10): e0187195. Published October 27, 2017.
- Franks, C.L., M.R. Ingala, R.E. Ravenelle, K. Dougherty-Howard, S.O Wicks, C. Herzog, R.J. Rudd (2016). The Effects of Cutaneous Fatty Acids on the Growth of Pseudogymnoascus destructans, the Etiological Agent of White-Nose Syndrome (WNS). PLoS ONE11(4): e0153535. Published April 12, 2016.
Graduate Teaching Assistant, Fordham University
- Human Biology BISC 1001, Professor Dr. Eugenia Ribeiro-Hurley, Summer I 2015. Led all pre-lab lectures.
- Ecology: A Human Approach BISC 1002, Professor Dr. Jacqui Johnson, Summer II 2015. Led all pre-lab lectures and developed a new lab exercise in which students calculated the percent of invasive plant species along a transect of forest.
- Microbiology Laboratory BISC 3653, Dr. Jacqui Johnson, Fall 2015 / Spring 2016/ Summer II 2016. Led all pre-lab lectures, guided students in designing and conducting individual micro research projects which were presented at the undergraduate research symposium.